The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 18, 2012

2012 Western Athletic Conference Preview

For many years, the Western Athletic Conference was strong enough to produce national title contenders as well as top 10 teams.  In the 1970’s, Arizona State routinely stayed in the top 10 as a WAC member, and rival Arizona moved as high as number 12 in 1975 when they faced the number two Sun Devils.

 

Brigham Young won a national championship in 1984 while a member of the WAC.

 

Even back in the 1960’s, this conference had top 10 teams, as Wyoming appeared in the top 10 for at least one week for three consecutive seasons.

 

In the 1996, the WAC expanded to 16 teams for three seasons.

 

Times have changed.  Defections almost doomed the league in recent years.  Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada, and Fresno State left for the Mountain West Conference, leaving just five football members.  Texas State and Texas-San Antonio were added to bring the number up to seven, but while the two new FBS members are eligible to win the WAC, neither is eligible to play in a bowl.

 

Oddly, the two new FBS members will be WAC members for just this season.  Texas State will move to the Sunbelt Conference next year.  UTSA is set to join Conference USA next year, taking Louisiana Tech with them.  San Jose State and Utah State are joining their former brethren in the Mountain West.  Idaho and New Mexico State have no place to go.  The Vandals might be forced to return to the Big Sky Conference and FCS football if they cannot afford making it as an independent, while NMSU may be forced to drop football altogether.

 

This could be the WAC’s swan song as a football league.  At least three teams figure to compete for the conference championship, where only one team is guaranteed a bowl bid, while two other bowls have secondary agreements with the league.

 

The WAC has two official pre-season polls, one by the coaches and one by the media.

 

 

Coaches’ Poll

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Louisiana Tech

6

36

2

Utah State

1

31

3

San Jose State

0

24

4

New Mexico State

0

22

5

Idaho

0

17

6

Texas State

0

10

7

U T S A

0

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media Poll

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Louisiana Tech

25

193

2

Utah State

3

164

3

San Jose State

0

130

4

Idaho

0

102

5

New Mexico State

0

95

6

Texas State

0

57

7

U T S A

0

43

 

The PiRate Ratings and the PiRate Vintage Ratings are similar to the official polls.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Team

PiRate

1

Louisiana Tech

101.1

2

Utah State

91.3

3

San Jose State

87.6

4

Idaho

80.8

5

New Mexico State

75.9

6

U T S A

74.1

7

Texas State

73.6

 

   

 

   

Vintage Ratings

Rank

Team

Vintage

1

Louisiana Tech

101

2

Utah State

96

3

San Jose State

95

4

Idaho

91

5

Texas State

83

6

New Mexico State

81

7

U T S A

77

 

 

Team

Idaho Vandals

               
Head Coach

Robb Akey

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Moscow, ID

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

80.8

               
National Rank

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

91.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

101

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

5-7

 

It was a rough season for the Vandals in 2011, as they crashed to the basement.  Idaho’s defense could not get off the field, surrendering nearly 75 plays per game.  The Vandals gave up almost 280 passing yards per game and 160 rushing yards per game.

 

Idaho returns five starters to this defense, but we expect the Vandals to be improved on this side of the ball this year.  The secondary should see the most improvement for two reasons.  First, two promising pass defenders return for their senior seasons, and second, the schedule is much easier in 2012.

 

Those two aforementioned secondary stars are cornerback Aaron Grymes and safety Gary Walker.  The two combined for 11 passes defended last year, and that number will head north this season.

 

The front seven is about on par with last year, but the easier schedule will make their numbers improve as well.

 

Offensively, Idaho is strong at receiver with the return of wideout Mike Scott, who caught 55 passes for close to 700 yards last year. 

 

Coach Robb Akey recently named University of Washington transfer Dominique Blackman as his starting quarterback, and Blackman should be an upgrade at this position.  Look for him to top 3,000 passing yards this year.  The big and bulky left-hander will benefit from having quality pass blockers on his right (blind) side.

 

The running game is a question mark at this time, since projected starter Ryan Bass is dealing with academic issues and is not currently practicing. 

 

Idaho must face Louisiana Tech and Utah State on the road this year, but the Vandals should be competitive in the rest of their conference games.  The out-of-conference schedule is a bit too difficult to give them a chance to post a winning season, but Idaho will definitely finish with a better record this year.

 

 

Team

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Sonny Dykes

               
Colors

Red and Blue

               
City

Ruston, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-1

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

101.1

               
National Rank

57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

101.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

61

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

6-0

Overall

8-4

 

Sonny Dykes is probably in the last year or two of his tenure in Ruston.  The Bulldog head coach will be on multiple schools’ short list when coaching vacancies occur.  The son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, who was an assistant in Lubbock to Mike Leach, has taken the LT offense and produced spectacular results with the spread passing game.  Tech has increased their passing yardage by around 30 yards per game both seasons under Dykes’ tutelage.  With the league’s best quarterback throwing to the league’s best receivers, the Bulldogs could easily improve by 30 yards per game again in 2012.

 

Colby Cameron became the starting quarterback just past the midway point in the season, and he guided the Bulldogs to six consecutive victories and the WAC championship.  He completed just 55% of his passes, but he tended to throw deeper passes and produced more than 14 yards per completion with a TD/Int ratio of 13/3.

 

Quinton Patton finished second in the WAC with 1,202 receiving yards.  He averaged better than 15 yards per reception and scored 11 touchdowns.  Tulane transfer D. J. Banks should be an excellent possession receiver, and he will get open in the short routes and help Cameron bring up his completion percentage.

 

The running game will not appear on any leaderboards, but the Bulldogs rarely see defenses that concentrate on trying to stop the running game first.  The loss of former Tennessee transfer Lennon Creer will be hard to make up, but the LT offense will not succeed or fail because of the running game.

 

There are some questions on the defensive side of the ball, and thus, the Bulldogs will not be a solid lock to run away with the 2012 WAC title.

 

The front six (LT deploys a 4-2-5 defense) is vulnerable with the loss of four starters from a year ago including two linebackers with more than 100 tackles apiece. 

 

The secondary is in a little better shape with the best tandem of safeties in the league in Chad Boyd and Jamel Johnson.

 

Tech hosts Utah State on November 17 and closes out the season at San Jose State a week later.  Those two games should decide the 2012 WAC championship, and we believe the Bulldogs are the favorite. 

 

 

Team

New Mexico State Aggies

               
Head Coach

DeWayne Walker

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Las Cruces, NM

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-5

Overall

4-9

               
PiRate Rating

75.9

               
National Rank

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

81.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

120

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

1-5

Overall

3-9

 

Football in the state of New Mexico has taken a turn for the worse in the last few years, as neither FBS school in the Land of Enchantment has competed in recent years.  It has been nine seasons since the Aggies last finished above .500, and it has been 52 seasons since they last appeared in a bowl.  The Aggies could very well be looking at the possibility of dropping scholarship football if they cannot find a conference next year, and this news has not helped an already weak recruiting effort.

 

Coach DeWayne Walker had to rely on the junior college route to try to restock his depleted troops, bringing in a baker’s dozen from the Juco ranks.

 

If he can avoid further injury, quarterback Andrew Manley can move the State offense.  Prior to a season-ending knee injury, he had led the Aggies to an upset win over Minnesota.  He will be burdened with a depleted running back corps, and one of the new Juco players, Akeelie Mustafa, will be called on for immediate support.   

 

Manley has some talent to aim his aerials toward this season.  Kemonte’ Bateman and Austin Franklin form the nucleus of the receiving corps.  It could be even better if the coach’s son, Kevan Walker, can return from a knee injury.  This unit may not have flashy stars, but is has depth.  If NMSU is to challenge for a move out of the lower half of the standings, this receiving corps must live up to its potential.

 

The only good thing to say about the running game is that it is not the running game of the Hal Mumme era.  Looking at it that way is the only way to put a good spin on a running game that struggled last year and lost its top two rushers.

 

The defense faces a major rebuilding job, which may not be such a bad thing.  The Aggies surrendered 37 points and better than 460 yards per game in 2011, and there is nowhere to go but up.  Expect a lot of the Jucos to move into the starting lineup, and when combined with an easier schedule, this should make the defensive numbers a little more respectable in 2012, especially in the trenches.  Expect Kalvin Cruz to contend for all-conference honors, with Nicholas Oliva and Kevin Laudermill contributing to an improved defense against the run and pass rush.

 

There are six winnable games on the 2012 schedule, but we still see the Aggies coming up short.  A loss at Texas State in the finale could be a finale in more ways than one.  If it isn’t the last Aggie game as a member of the FBS, it could be Walker’s last as head coach.

 

 

Team

San Jose State Spartans

               
Head Coach

Mike MacIntyre

               
Colors

Dark Blue and Gold

               
City

San Jose, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

87.6

               
National Rank

102

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

95.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

85

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

6-6

 

 

The Spartans are a good quarterback away from contending for the WAC championship in 2012.  Third year coach Mike MacIntyre has recruited well, and his Spartans have a chance to become bowl eligible in year three.

 

MacIntyre may have found his good quarterback in Nevada transfer David Fales.  Fales has size and talent to withstand hard pass rushes and pass with poise. 

 

Fales will have help in the backfield this year with the emergence of former Minnesota running back De’Leon Eskridge and Juco standout Alvin Jelks.  Look for the Spartans rushing statistics to improve this year despite the loss of their leading 2011 rusher.

 

The receiving corps is second best in the league and returns the top four pass catchers from a year ago.  Tight end Ryan Otten will earn a paycheck to play football in 2013, and we expect him to surpass his totals of 52 receptions and 739 yards this season.  Jabari Carr is the key to this unit.  The speedy wideout needs to improve on his 33 receptions of a year ago; Carr has the ability to make short passes become long gains.

 

The SJSU defense gave up better than 30 points and 400 yards per game for the third consecutive year last season, and the Spartans could make that four in a row this season.  However, giving up 30 points could still allow the team to compete in this league.

 

While six starters have departed from last year, the top three tacklers return.  Defensive end Travis Johnson is a sack monster, who missed out on the WAC sack leadership by just one.  James Orth returns to the secondary after picking off four passes in 2011.  Keith Smith is a quality linebacker capable of leading the league in tackles.

 

The WAC championship should be decided by the outcomes of three games this year.  If the Spartans can defeat both Utah State and Louisiana Tech, they can emerge as the surprise league champions.  San Jose hosts both conference contenders.  This team may still be a year away from contending, but this is their last chance in the WAC.  It will be much more difficult to compete in the Mountain West next year.

 

Team

Texas State Bobcats

               
Head Coach

Dennis Franchione

               
Colors

Maroon and Old Gold

               
City

San Marcos, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-0

Overall

6-6 (as FCS Independent)

               
PiRate Rating

73.6

               
National Rank

121

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

83.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

118

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

2-4

Overall

3-9

 

After five seasons out of the major college ranks, Dennis Franchione gets another chance to pilot a FBS team as the Bobcats make their debut on the big stage.  Franchione guided Texas State to a 6-6 finish as a FCS independent last year, but in the two games played against FBS opponents, State lost by a combined 95-20.  Expect the Bobcats to take their lumps this season.

 

Shaun Rutherford once teamed with Cam Newton in junior college.  The senior quarterback will not emulate his former teammate at this level, but he gives the Bobcats a chance to compete offensively in the WAC.  A good year from Rutherford would produce about 500 rushing yards and 2,000 passing yards.

 

Franchione can call on some quality depth to anchor his running game.  Texas State is one of the handful of run first teams, and Coach Fran has his full complement of backs returning from 2011.  Marcus Curry and Terrence Franks should get the bulk of the carries, as State looks to run the ball about 45 times per game.

 

The one possible weak spot of the offense is an inexperienced offensive line that must replace three starters.  It is also undersized for this level of football, as the five projected starters average about 275 pounds.

 

The Texas State defense surrendered 400 yards and 28.5 points per game against mostly FCS competition last year.  In the two games against FBS opposition (Texas Tech and Wyoming), the Bobcats gave up a very generous 1,123 yards (561.5 avg), yielding 6.5 yards per enemy rush and 8.6 yards per pass attempt.

 

While most of last year’s starters return to the defensive side, do not expect much improvement with a schedule that goes from two FBS opponents to 11.  Cornerback Darryl Morris and safety Xavier Daniels should finish one-two in tackles, and that never bodes well for a defense, as a linebacker should lead the team in stops.

 

The one place where Texas State takes a back seat to nobody is in the kicking game.  Kicker Will Johnson is both accurate and long.

 

Texas State has just one “gimme” game on the schedule when they host Stephen F. Austin.  The game against new rival UTSA is in San Antonio.  The Bobcats also play both of the weak New Mexico teams and host Idaho, so Coach Fran’s troops have a chance to compete in five games this year.  We expect them to win two or three games.

 

 

Team

Utah State Aggies

               
Head Coach

Gary Andersen

               
Colors

Navy and White

               
City

Logan, UT

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

91.3

               
National Rank

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

96.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

78

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

7-5

 

At times last year, Utah State was the clear-cut best team in the WAC.  The Aggies opened the season by showing up the defending national champion Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium for about 53 minutes of the game.  A couple weeks later, they took BYU to the final gun.  They followed that up with a dismantling of a Wyoming team that would win eight games, and in November, they upset Nevada.  Untimely turnovers ruined USU’s chances of winning the WAC in 2011, but the Aggies have another chance in the league’s swan song.  Utah State has almost the same amount of quality talent as Louisiana Tech, but the big game against the Bulldogs is on the road this season.

 

Coach Gary Andersen saw his offense greatly improve last year thanks to a devastating rushing attack.  Except for the three schools that run the 21st century version of the wishbone (Army, Navy, Georgia Tech), Utah State had the best running attack of the non regular and triple option teams.  The Aggies rushed for 283 yards per game at nearly six yards per attempt last year, but the two men chiefly responsible for that output are no longer around.  Leading rusher Robert Turbin is now a Seattle Seahawk after he led the WAC with 19 rushing touchdowns and finished second with 1,517 yards.

 

Expect a major drop-off in running numbers this season, as the expected tandem of Kerwynn Williams and Joe Hill are not as good as what USU had last year.  

 

The Aggies will make up for the weaker ground game with a much better passing game this year.  Sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton could see his passing yardage more than double in his second season in Logan.  He completed 61% of his passes with a 12/2 TD/Int ratio last year.

 

Keeton has three exceptional targets in receivers Chuck Jacobs, Matt Austin, and Cameron Webb.  Look for Webb to have a breakout season this year.

 

The offensive line is one of the best in the league, led by NFL prospect Tyler Larsen at center.

 

The Aggies enjoyed their first winning record in more than a decade because the defense improved by six points and 60 yards per game last year.  Teams could no longer run the ball down USU’s throats.  Expect more of the same in 2012, as all three defensive units should be somewhat improved.

 

The strength of this defense is a fabulous secondary led by two potential All-WAC Cornerbacks and a speedy safety.  Nevin Lawson and Jumaine Robinson teamed for 23 passes defended, while McKade Brady kept opposing offenses from getting long gains.

 

The non-conference schedule presents some tough challenges again for the Aggies with games against in-state rivals Utah and BYU combined with a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to take on the Badgers.  An easier league slate should allow Utah State to finish on the plus side of .500 again.  And, if the Aggies can win their two biggest conference games on the road against Louisiana Tech and San Jose State, they will claim the final WAC championship.  They figure to be underdogs in both big games. 

 

 

Team

Texas-San Antonio

               
Head Coach

Larry Coker

               
Colors

Orange and Blue

               
City

San Antonio

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-0

Overall

4-6 (as FCS Independent)

               
PiRate Rating

74.1

               
National Rank

120

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

77.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

124

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

1-5

Overall

3-9

 

It is a far cry from a decade ago for Coach Larry Coker.  The former Miami of Florida coach won a national championship in Coral Gables with one of the most dominating teams in modern football.  He returns to FBS football with a team that lost to McMurry, Southern Utah, Sam Houston, UC Davis, and McNeese State last year and played no FBS teams.

 

The Roadrunners will be more talented this season, as practically every letterman that contributed returns this year.  Only two starters from the 22 first teamers are gone, and there are still very few seniors on this roster, as this is just the second season of football in San Antonio.

 

It is difficult to gauge how good the returning talent is, since UTSA played no FBS opponents in their first year of organized football.  Coker expects to employ a two-quarterback system this year with returning starter Eric Soza and junior college transfer Tucker Carter splitting the reps.  Soza, the better runner, completed 56% of his passes last year but threw nine interceptions or about one pick for every 34 pass attempts.  Carter put up some gaudy stats in junior college, and he is the stronger passer.

 

The top unit on the offense is the receiving corps.  Tight ends Jeremiah Moeller and Cole Hubbell and wideouts Brandon Freeman, Kenny Harrison, and Kam Jones will provide the quarterbacks with multiple options on passing plays.

 

UTSA will use a 4-2-5 defense, and the strength is at linebacker, where Steven Kurfehs and Bradon Reeves combined for 130 stops, 12 ½ behind the line.

 

UTSA will play a weak non-conference schedule, which will give the Roadrunners a chance to win two or three games.  However, even in the much weaker WAC, UTSA will be lucky to win one time.

 

Coming Sunday, August 19: A look at the Mid-American Conference, a quarterback-rich league in 2012.

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